Astros stay in the win column

McCullers Jr. returns to the mound as Astros start 2-0 against the Mariners

Lance McCullers Houston Astros
Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

Lance McCullers made his return to the MLB mound in a win on Saturday

With the first game and win under their belt, the Astros went back to work on Saturday against the Mariners in Houston. They worked behind Lance McCullers Jr., making his return to the mound after missing the 2019 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. McCullers would put together a strong start, and Houston's offense continued to stack up runs en route to the win and a 2-0 record.

Final Score: Astros 7, Mariners 2.

Record: 2-0, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (1-0, 3.00 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Taijuan Walker (0-1, 13.50 ERA).

Houston strikes first and builds an early lead

In the bottom half of the first inning, the Astros wasted no time at the plate, getting a one-out walk by Jose Altuve, who moved to second on a single by Alex Bregman, then scored on an RBI-single by Michael Brantley, grabbing a quick 1-0 lead.

Yuli Gurriel made his first hit of 2020 an impressive one, crushing a ball in the bottom of the fourth for a solo home run to extend the lead to 2-0. Later in the same inning, Kyle Tucker would end Taijuan Walker's day with an RBI-double to make it 3-0, and Martin Maldonado added two more on a two-RBI double to push the lead to 5-0.

McCullers Jr. provides six strong innings

Lance McCullers Jr. struggled with his command early in the game, starting in the top of the first loading the bases after a double and two walks. He would get a much-needed double play to end the threat, keeping the game scoreless. He had more traffic in the second inning but again was able to induce groundballs to keep the lead. His first clean inning came in the third as he was able to settle in, though in the top of the fifth, George Springer made a nasty collision with the center-field wall going after a fly ball, which resulted in a leadoff triple.

The Mariners turned that into a run with a sacrifice groundout, but McCullers Jr. would follow that with two strikeouts to end the frame. In the bottom of the fifth, Carlos Correa made it a five-run lead again with an RBI-single to bring the score to 6-1. McCullers Jr. would complete the sixth inning, even after allowing a solo home run to trim the lead to 6-2, leaving in position for the win. His final line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 1 HR.

Houston's bullpen wraps things up again

After the scary impact with the wall earlier, Springer must have felt just fine, launching a two-out dinger in the bottom of the sixth to make it 7-2. In the top of the seventh, another Astro made their major-league debut, this time Cristian Javier out of the bullpen. Javier worked around a one-out single for a scoreless inning of work.

Cy Sneed took over on the mound in the eighth, and he was able to work around a one-out double by striking out three Mariners. Still 7-2 after eight, Roberto Osuna made his 2020 debut in the top of the ninth after being labeled as questionable to take part in this series after a slow progression in Summer Camp. Osuna was able to put an end to the game, throwing a scoreless inning to move the Astros to 2-0 on the early season.

Up Next: Game three of this four-game set will be on Sunday at 1:10 PM Central at Minute Maid Park. The pitching matchup will be Yusei Kikuchi on the mound for Seattle, going opposite of Zack Greinke for Houston. Greinke will be making his first meaningful start since Game 7 of the 2019 World Series.

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Everything is coming into focus. Composite Getty Image.

The 2024 season certainly hasn't begun like the Astros would have hoped, and the club is currently 8.5 games behind the Seattle Mariners in the AL West.

And while the play on the field certainly hasn't been up to par, what's going on behind the scenes is what has Astros fans the most curious.

How does the Astros power structure really work? Is GM Dana Brown really the one calling the shots? Based on what we've seen since Brown was hired, the answer is clearly no.

For what we can tell, Brown's main focus is replenishing the club's farm system. And that's a role he's highly qualified for, but his title calls for a lot more than that. He should be the main voice in the room, not just one of the many voices in the room.

The Athletic's Keith Law recently gave an interview on ESPN Houston, and said the common consensus across the league is Jim Crane is running things, and he's one of the most active owners in baseball.

Which goes along with the narrative most believe in Houston, Jeff Bagwell has Crane's ear, and that's how decisions are being made.

This goes back to when former GM James Click was allegedly pushed out the door because he didn't see eye-to eye with Dusty Baker. And that was after winning a World Series. That's when the Jim Crane-Jerry Jones comparisons starting gaining momentum.

And now it's fair to wonder if Baker was taking orders from above, and now Joe Espada is in the same predicament. Which would explain the nightmare at first base with Jose Abreu playing almost every game.

Why the secrecy?

The Astros have a strange policy with injuries. Just recently, Houston refused to acknowledge that Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy were set to have elbow surgery and would be out for the season. Even after reports to the contrary surfaced.

And yet, there was an article on the Astros.com website reporting that exact same news about Javier and Urquidy being done for the year. The Astros would then confirm the surgeries not long after.

Yet, when Kyle Tucker fouled a ball off his shin, we found out that night that the X-rays were negative. And there are plenty more examples of this, we just don't have the time to document them all here.

There just doesn't seem to be any consistency, and when the team is losing, it's not hard to irritate the fanbase.

Don't miss the video above as we examine the Astros power structure, try to make sense of their curious stance on reporting injuries, and much more.

Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and Charlie Pallilo discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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